A finely rendered portrait of two Southern abolitionists and civil-rights activists, and of the time in which they lived.
Journalist Perry (Conceived in Liberty, 1997, etc.) traces the evolution of the Grimké sisters, Angelina and Sarah, from antebellum Charleston liberals to influential Philadelphia reformists over the space of a few short years, sent there by a voice from heaven that instructed the Quaker spinster Sarah to “Go north. Go north.” Their abandonment of their home was a long time coming, but no surprise: Perry relates that young Sarah’s father caught her teaching a slave how to read, “in violation of the family’s traditions, Southern customs, and the strict slave codes of the state,” and that Angelina was quick to join her sister in rejecting the traditions of their state, family, and class. Their efforts, though little celebrated in standard texts of 19th-century history, were of great importance in forging the abolitionist cause through the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. More than reporting the details of the Grimké sisters’ lives and deeds, interesting enough though they are, Perry offers a learned survey of American social history in the mid-19th century, providing a vivid account of the religious revival called the Second Great Awakening and connecting the quest of their contemporaries for earthly salvation to the sisters’ thwarted determination to lead lives of religious devotion. Perry also does a nice job of introducing what would become a life-altering discovery for the sisters after the Civil War: the fact that their brother had fathered children with a “free person of color,” two of whom would, with the sisters’ help, go on to become important figures in the post-Reconstruction civil-rights movement.
Engaging, intelligent, and likely to be of much interest to general readers, as well as of value in courses in American history, women’s studies, and African American studies.